Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.007  Wednesday, 11 January 2017


From:         Julia Griffin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 10, 2017 at 4:31:23 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Wolfe


The Heather Wolfe story can’t be quite like this, surely, if it’s so new?  Oxfordians, etc., have never questioned that Shakespeare the player was the man from Stratford; the point of dispute is whether this Stratfordian player is also the playwright.  Unless she has found a coat of arms that says that, I can’t see what has been proved ...






MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.006  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 5, 2017 at 2:52:22 PM EST

Subject:    MV Dialog




Once we have determined that Portia represented Elizabeth and Bassanio represented the second Earl of Essex on the Political/Religious/Current Events Dimension of Meaning, the identities of the other main characters on this Dimension fall into place.


1. Gratiano as the third Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare changed Il Pecorino to add an original Gratiano character who accompanied Giannetto/Bassanio to Belmonte/Belmont and to the trial of Anselmo/Antonio. Gratiano appeared to be on the same level of society as Bassanio/Essex, although Gratiano seemed to consider himself to be a follower of Bassanio just as Southampton considered himself to be a follower of Essex. Southampton was having an affair with Elizabeth Vernon/Nerissa, who was a cousin of Essex and a Lady-in-Waiting to Elizabeth/Portia.


2. Shakespeare as Lorenzo.

Lorenzo was a character in The Spanish Tragedy. I surmise that Shakespeare acted this role, and that his contemporaries as theater people, as well as many of the experienced playgoers in London, would have recognized him as having performed Lorenzo in this popular play.



O my Anthonio, I do know of these

That therefore onely are reputed wise,

For saying nothing… .



I must be one of these same dumb wise mean,

For Gratiano never let’s me speake.



Well, keep me company but two yeares mo,

Thou shalt not know the sound of thine owne tongue.



During the outbreak of plague in 1592-93, the Crown ordered the complete closure of all theaters in London. Shakespeare may have kept company with Southampton during this period.


As he did with Mercutio in R&J, Shakespeare may have provided us with a glimpse into Southampton’s personality.



…but heare thee Gratiano,

Thou art to wilde, to rude, and bold of voyce,

Parts that become thee happily enough,

And in such eyes as ours appeare not faults;

But where they are not knowne, why there they show

Something too liberall, pray thee take paine

To allay with some cold drops of modestie

Thy skipping spirit, least through they wilde behaviour

I be misconsterd in the place I goe to,

And loose my hopes.




Gratiano speakes an infinite deal of nothing,

more than any man in all Venice, his reasons are two

graines of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall

seeke all day ere you finde them, & when you have them

they are not worth the search.

(1.1.114-18 )


(This sounds like good friends teasing one another.)


But could Shakespeare have doubled Lorenzo when he played Shylock? I believe so, for two reasons. First, Lorenzo and Shylock never share the stage at the same time. Second, Shakespeare wrote into the play excuses for Lorenzo showing up late so that he could remove his Shylock Jewish gaberdine and uncover the Lorenzo garb beneath.



Sweet friends, your patience for my long abode,

Not I, but my affaires have made you wait:





I pray you give me leave to goe from hence,

I am not well





Pardonnez moi, monsieur, we be no well.

JM: (4.4.68)


Many editors and commentators envision that Shylock left the stage a trembling and broken — even suicidal — man because he had been forced to deny his Jewish heritage and become a Christian. The plain meaning of the words suggests as much.


However, the plain meaning of these words must also be considered in connection with the reference to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. Barabas, disguised as a French musician, had just poisoned Bellamira and Pila-Borza and needed to make a hasty exit. Shylock needed to make a quick exit as well: Shakespeare had so arranged it that Shylock’s presence was no longer needed in the scene. He (as Shylock) needed time to change into Lorenzo for the In such a night duet with Jessica that began Act 5.


3. Nerissa as Elizabeth Vernon. On the Source Dimension the Lady of Belmonte did not have a maid such as Nerissa. Her maid was merely a serving girl who later married Anselmo; Nerissa was more of an intimate companion on a slightly lower social standing. Elizabeth Vernon was a Lady-in-Waiting to Elizabeth and was carrying on an affair with Southampton at the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Southampton later married her against the Queen’s wishes.


4. Belmonte as Belmont. The Belmonte of Il Pecorino did not exist. Belmont was the Hampshire home of Southampton’s recusant cousin, Thomas Pounde. Thomas had helped the Jesuits and had been imprisoned for a number of years. He became a Jesuit late in life.


5. Antonio as Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague. Montague was Southampton’s maternal grandfather and, together with his second wife Magdalen Dacre, were the most prominent Catholics in England. Their home, Cowdray House, was called Little Rome.


Bassanio said of Antonio:

…and one in whom

The ancient Romane honour more appeares

Then any that drawes breath in Italie.



In Shakespeare's time, Rome and Roman signified Roman Catholic


Montague died in 1592. Antonio was inexplicably sad because he was dead (but was not aware of that fact). He had much ado to know himself, and Gratiano remarked that he was marvellously chang’d. 


1 Corinthians 

51 Behold, I show you a secret thing, We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall blow, and the dead shall be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.


6. Stephano as Stephano.



LORENZO: Who comes so fast in the silence of the night?


STEPHANO: A friend.


LORENZO: A friend, what friend? your name I pray you friend?


STEPHANO: Stephano is my name… .


LORENZO: …My friend Stephano… .

(5.1.25-28, 51)


Notice that Shakespeare as Lorenzo asked the Messenger for his name, and called him friend several times in quick succession (as previously discussed, a Shakespearean marker to alert the audience to pay particular attention to that word). Nowhere else in the play did anyone ask for a messenger’s or servant’s name or refer to the messenger or servant as friend or something similar. The Guise faction in France plotted to have Elizabeth poisoned by an Italian named Stephano.


7. Flesh but not blood. This was a contentious issue during the Reformation.


PORTIA: This bond doth give thee heere no jot of bloud,

The words expresly are a pound of flesh:

Then take thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh,

But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed

One drop of Christian bloud, thy lands and goods

Are by the Lawes of Venice confiscate

Unto the state of Venice.


In Il Pecorone, the flesh/blood quibble was just that, a legal quibble. In MV, Shakespeare created a specific statute. He knew that the bare quibble would not hold water with attorneys or judges in attendance. 


Il Pecorone did not specify Christian blood. That comes from Faustus. Edward Alleyn made an indelible impression on audiences with his final words as Faustus just before he descended into hell: 


FAUSTUS: See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament:

One drop would save my soul, half a drop!


In 1559 Elizabeth had enacted the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity that forbad the Catholic Mass. During Mass the people could partake of the Body (bread) of Christ, but only the priests could partake of the Blood (wine) of Christ. The Anglican communion service allowed the people to partake of both. Article 28 of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, upon which the Catholic Mass was based. There are numerous references to flesh and/or blood throughout MV.







“Slender (though well landed) is an idiot” or: More Attribution Nonsense

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.005  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


[1] From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 29, 2016 at 4:46:08 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


[2] From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 30, 2016 at 10:17:09 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author




From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 29, 2016 at 4:46:08 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


The debate, if there is one, between Gabriel Egan (and perhaps some of his co-editors of the New Oxford Shakespeare), on the one hand, and Sir Brian Vickers, on the other, over whether lexical or function words are of greater significance is making or rejecting attributions seems not to recognize that they are both important.  For example, the relative frequency of lexical words and function words are considered by H. Craig & Arthur Kinney (Shakespeare, Computers and the Mystery of Authorship [Cambridge U.P., 2009]) to be separate tests, each of which confirms or rejects the reliability of the result reached by the other test. In my view, and that of statistical analysts, those verbal tests are two but not all of the tools which can and should be employed in statistical analysis of attribution issues.  Sam Schoenbaum noted that “A playwright’s individuality may find expression in a number of accidentals: his idiosyncrasies with regard to speech prefixes, stage directions, act divisions, the recording of entrances, etc., his peculiarities of spelling, punctuation, and abbreviation” (Internal Evidence and Elizabethan Dramatic Authorship [Northwestern U.P., 1966] at 182).  Even more subtle mannerisms, such as metrical habits, end-stopping and enjambment preferences, rhyming tendencies, peculiar rhetorical practices, cæsurae, enclitic and proclitic microphrases, tendencies as to contractions, compound words, etc., are also part of the “style” which may be quantified and compared by statistical analysis.



From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 30, 2016 at 10:17:09 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


I read with great interest the SQ article that Gabriel Egan referred us to. If I may say so, it does a superb job of explaining the mathematics in a way that non-mathematicians could understand, with some effort. A little bit of googling also enabled me to find an earlier article, cited in the SQ paper, by Gabriel’s three collaborators, which gives the mathematics [*]. I’ll refer to this as ‘the other article’.


I am sharing below some observations of mine which might be of interest to readers of either article. 


I don’t understand why the method counts adjacencies only within a ‘sentence’. The other article defines a sentence as the words found between two successive periods, question marks, exclamation marks or semicolons. The SQ article says that “we do not count...any adjacency that spans a speech break”. It’s not clear whether this means that a sentence is words between speech breaks only, or between speech breaks, periods, question marks etc.; but that is not my main point. My point is that suppose one author writes like this:


SPEAKER 1. You did not see it.

SPEAKER 2. By Heaven, I did!


Suppose another author writes like this:


SPEAKER 1. You did not see it.

SPEAKER 2. Upon my word, I did!


If we ignore adjacencies that span sentences then we do not discover that the first author likes to follow ‘it’ with ‘by’ whereas the second author likes to follow ‘it’ with ‘upon’. In a passage of text that consists of lots of short sentences, it seems obvious that the results might be materially different if we also counted adjacencies across sentences. So why is this information excluded from the method? Since we are talking here about the measurable effects of an author’s unconscious writing style, I do not see why function word associations may not span sentence boundaries. An author does not stop after each sentence to clear his mind of all associations with the words he has just written. He might immediately start writing the next sentence and use the function words he unconsciously associates with the ones he has just written. How different would the results be if no account were taken of sentence boundaries?


Another concern is that the method assumes that an author’s word adjacency network is constant over time. The other article says: “Our claim is that every author...has an inherent relational structure...that serves as an authorial fingerprint... [my emphasis]” That’s not self-evident. Could an author’s style not change during his career? Both articles test the method to distinguish between different authors; but neither appears to test how different an author is from himself at different stages of his career. Suppose we produced separate WANs for early and late Shakespeare plays. They would of course be different, but might they not also be materially different? If they are materially different then at least some of the work done for the SQ article would be unsafe and would need to be done again.


I do not mean to try to undermine the SQ article. Gabriel and his collaborators have done exactly what ought to be done now. Today’s Shakespeare scholars are the first ever to possess electronic versions of every text, and accessible computing power and software tools with which to process them. They need to collaborate with their colleagues in the mathematics and computing departments, to invent and test methods like the one in the SQ article. That is the task for this generation.


As I am sure Gabriel will concede, much caution still needs to be exercised. If we look at the graphs in the SQ article, we see that what appears to be a decisive demonstration that Marlowe wrote some scenes in the H6 plays is actually a demonstration that if the plays had been written by only Shakespeare and Marlowe then the scenes would be divided between them as the graphs show. As other graphs in the same article show, it is not certain that only Shakespeare and Marlowe were involved. For some acts other authors like Greene have a stronger claim than Marlowe. Consistent with this, the New Oxford Shakespeare complete works edition attributes 2&3H6 to Shakespeare, Marlowe and Anonymous, but such nuances and caveats are lost when the press report these findings.


[*] The other article can be found at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1406.4469.pdf and in a shorter version at http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~maeisen/wiki/uploads/Research/c_2013_segarra_etal.pdf




New TED Talk Video -- How NOT to Hate Shakespeare by Rob Crisell

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.004  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


From:        Rob Crisell <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 10, 2017 at 1:40:32 PM EST

Subject:    New TED Talk Video -- How NOT to Hate Shakespeare by Rob Crisell 


I’m a member of SHAKSPER and also a Shakespearean actor and educator who lives in California. I wanted to bring to your attention a TED talk I gave in October in which I share the importance of integrating acting into the teaching of Shakespeare. After all—with all due respect to all those fabulous scholars on the site—the Bard wasn’t originally meant to be read, he was meant to be experienced. I hope you find it interesting. See below.


If you feel it’s appropriate, feel free to pass it along to the other members. My hope is that as many high school and junior high (or even university!) teachers see it and utilize some of the principles in their teaching.


Of course, I’d love to get your feedback as well. Thank you.


Best regards, 

Rob Crisell






Published on Jan 4, 2017


What's all this ado about Shakespeare? Get beneath the surface and learn how and why to make the Bard a part of your life. Wait, he already is.  

Rob Crisell has spent more than two decades in publishing, non-profit work, law, and commercial real estate. These days he’s a full-time writer and educator, teaching Shakespeare at local schools on behalf of Murrieta Valley Union School District and Shakespeare in the Vines. As an actor, he’s appeared in Merchant of Venice, Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, among others. He’s the author of Red, White & Bard: A Celebration of Shakespeare in America, a one-man show slated to premier this winter. He’s a graduate of Yale University and George Mason University School of Law. His adventure novel for kids, The Zoo of Impossible Animals, was published this fall. He lives in Temecula with his wife Monisha and their two children.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx




Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.003  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


From:        Bo Bergstrom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 8, 2017 at 3:01:44 PM EST

Subject:    Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator


From The Guardian.




How ‘Sherlock of the library’ cracked the case of Shakespeare’s identity: Literary detective Heather Wolfe reveals how her passion for manuscripts helped unravel mystery of who the bard really was


By Robert McCrum

Saturday 7 January 2017 19.03 EST


Deep in the Folger Library, in Washington DC, Heather Wolfe says that studying Shakespeare makes an ideal preparation for the onset of Trump’s America. You can see her point: Shakespeare would have revelled in the mad excesses, the sinister vanities and the pervasive stench of cronyism and corruption surrounding the president-elect as America makes the painful transition from Barack Obama.


Dr Wolfe is a willowy, bright-eyed manuscript scholar, a paleographer specialising in Elizabethan England who in certain moods of candour might put you in mind of Portia or perhaps Cordelia. She’s also a Shakespeare detective who, last year, made the career-defining discovery that is going to transform our understanding of Shakespeare’s biography. In the simplest terms, Wolfe delivered the coup de grace to the wild-eyed army of conspiracy theorists, including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi, who contest the authenticity, even the existence, of the playwright known to contemporaries as Master Will Shakespeare.


Wolfe is an accidental sleuth. Her scholar’s passion is as much for old manuscripts as for the obscurities surrounding our national poet. Project Dustbunny, for example, one of her initiatives at the Folger Shakespeare Library, has made some extraordinary discoveries based on microscopic fragments of hair and skin accumulated in the crevices and gutters of 17th-century books.


DNA forensics aside, Wolfe’s role as a curator at the Folger is to bring her expertise to bear on the tantalising mass of documents that survives from the late 16th century. And yet, despite a heap of legal, commercial and matrimonial evidence, Shakespeare the man continues to slip through scholars’ fingers. Four centuries after his death, apart from a handful of crabbed signatures, there is not one manuscript, letter or diary we can definitively attribute to the poet, sponsoring the pervasive air of mystery that surrounds his genius. Indeed, the most intimate surviving Shakespeare document remains that notorious will, in which he bequeathed his wife his “second best bed”.


Before Wolfe arrived on the scene, all that scholars could be certain about was that a man named Shaxpere, Shaxberd or Shakespear was born in Stratford in 1564, and that he was an actor whose name is printed in the collected edition of his work published in 1623. We also know that he married Anne Hathaway, and died in 1616, according to legend, on his birthday, St George’s Day. The so-called “Stratfordian” case for Shakespeare rested on these, and a few other facts, but basically, that was it.


[ . . . ]


Into this vacuum, a bizarre fraternity, including Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud, have projected a “Shakespeare” written by a more obviously accomplished writer: Edward de Vere (the 17th earl of Oxford), Sir Francis Bacon and the playwright Christopher Marlowe, to name the leading contenders in a field that includes Sir Walter Raleigh, and even Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen herself.


In the absence of reliable data, a mountain of speculation has morphed into the weirdest fantasy, notably the 2011 film, Anonymous. Wolfe has no time for this. Speaking exclusively for the first time to the Observer, she says: “Without the evidence for other contenders, it’s hard for me to engage with this line of inquiry.”


Wolfe’s appetite for manuscript corroboration has led her into many dusty corners of the Elizabethan archives. It was this research instinct that first led her to reopen the file on the coat of arms granted to Shakespeare’s father, the small-town glover, in 1596.


John Shakespeare, from Stratford-upon-Avon, was ambitious to rise in the world. He was certainly not the first Englishman keen to put his origins as a provincial tradesman behind him. Among his contemporaries in Stratford, he was a figure of fun for his social climbing. English class snobbery has a long pedigree. His son, who would continue the quest for official recognition after his father’s death, also attracted metropolitan disdain as “an upstart crow beautified with our feathers”. In 1601, after his father’s death, Shakespeare the upstart returned to the college of arms to renew the family application for a coat of arms. He had made a small fortune in the theatre, and was buying property in and around Stratford. Now he set out to consolidate his reputation as a “Gentleman”. Under the rules that governed life at the court of Elizabeth I, only the Queen’s heralds could grant this wish.


A much-reproduced sketch for a coat of arms crystallised Shakespeare’s hopes for legitimacy in the antique jargon of heraldry: “On a Bend Sables, a Speare of the first steeled argent. And for his Crest, a falcon, his winges displayed Argent, supporting a Speare Gould …” The needy applicant also attached a motto: Non Sanz Droit (“Not Without Right”). All this, and much more, is buried in the archives of the college of arms in London.


Wolfe’s fascination with Shakespeare’s quest for a family crest grew out of her immersion in the manners and customs of late Elizabethan England, in particular the College of Heralds. These court officials were required to administer the complex rituals governing the lives of the knights, barons and earls surrounding Queen Elizabeth.


An adjunct to the court, the College of Heralds was not exempt from its own secret feuds. In 1602, the internecine rivalry between Sir William Dethick, the Garter King of Arms, and another herald, Ralph Brooke, burst into the open when Brooke released a list of 23 “mean persons” whose applications for crests (he claimed) had been wrongfully preferred by Dethick. When “Shakespeare the Player” found himself on this list, his campaign for social advancement seemed in jeopardy. A bitter row broke out at court between two factions. Shakespeare himself became an object of ridicule. Another rival, Ben Jonson, in his satire Every Man out of his Humour, poked fun at him as a rustic buffoon who pays £30 for a ridiculous coat of arms with the humiliating motto “Not Without Mustard”.


It’s at this point in the story that Wolfe discovered “the smoking gun”. In the Brooke-Dethick feud, it becomes clear that “Shakespeare, Gent. from Stratford” and “Shakespeare the Player” are the same man. In other words, “the man from Stratford” is indeed the playwright. Crucially, in the long-running “authorship” debate, this has been a fiercely contested point. But Wolfe’s research nails any lingering ambiguity in which the Shakespeare deniers can take refuge.


Wolfe is circumspect about making extravagant claims. Speaking carefully, she says that her manuscript discoveries fill in gaps, illuminating Shakespeare’s character. “They point to someone actively involved in defining and defending his legacy in 1602, shortly after his father’s death.”


For Wolfe, it’s Shakespeare the man who breaks cover here. “He’s defending his legacy not only as a playwright but, most importantly to him, as a gentleman.” The derogatory references to arms belonging to “Shakespeare ye player”, she says, show that “he’s playing the same game as everyone else in the period, purchasing land in Stratford to support his case to ‘ancient’ gentility, rather than through his astonishing professional success”.


James Shapiro, bestselling author of 1599, who is persuaded by Wolfe’s discoveries, compares her to “a Sherlock Holmes of the archives”. Shapiro says that Wolfe “has had the intellectual independence to see what others have overlooked, the skills to make sense of what she has stumbled upon and the modesty not to trumpet the larger implications of those finds. But make no mistake: they are enormously consequential.”


For Shapiro, Wolfe’s work suggests future breakthroughs. “I doubt that these are the last archival treasures she will unearth. Her recent finds sharpen our sense of Shakespeare’s dogged pursuit of upward mobility. And it is one more nail in the coffin of those who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that the glover’s son from Stratford was also the successful man of the theatre who left us so many extraordinary plays.”


Wolfe says she looks forward to “poking about” in the archives, and is convinced that Shakespeare’s identity no longer needs re-confirmation. “There is such a wealth of evidence out there that he’s the playwright.” She adds: “I’m sure there’s more untapped material waiting to be uncovered. Additional finds will certainly help us understand his life – as much as we can understand anyone’s life from 400 years ago.”




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